September 6, 2012 / 8:10 PM / in 6 years

Jury selection opens in former Detroit mayor's corruption trial

DETROIT (Reuters) - Jury selection began on Thursday in the trial of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who was elected in 2001 as a bright hope to reverse the city’s decades of decline but now faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted of federal corruption charges.

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick sits in the court room with his wife Carlita as he waits for his sentencing hearing where he received a 120-day jail sentence in Detroit, Michigan October 28, 2008. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

The jury’s racial makeup in the trial of Kilpatrick, who is black, is an issue because the pool of 220 potential jurors from southeastern Michigan includes people both from Detroit, which is 83 percent black, and predominantly white nearby areas.

“Our future ... right here, right now,” was the slogan that helped Kilpatrick, then a 31-year-old state legislator, become the youngest mayor in Detroit history.

He already has spent more than a year in prison after pleading guilty to charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, and probation violations.

Kilpatrick now faces up to 30 years in prison, accused in a 46-count indictment of using cash from a tax-exempt civic fund to pay for yoga classes, golf clubs and anti-bugging equipment. His father and two other men, a former city contractor and a former Detroit official, also go on trial with Kilpatrick.

Kilpatrick unsuccessfully sought to have the charges dismissed because of concerns that blacks are systematically excluded from federal jury pools in eastern Michigan. Supporters of Kilpatrick have cited the case of Bobby Ferguson, a friend of Kilpatrick whose case was heard by a jury drawn from a pool that was less than 10 percent black.

Prosecutors are expected to say that Kilpatrick used the mayor’s office to make money for himself and his associates, including his politically connected father, Bernard Kilpatrick, who is also on trial.

His mother, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, who was a 14-year U.S. congresswoman, is not charged in the case. Bernard Kilpatrick was once the chief-of-staff to the top elected official in Wayne County, where Detroit is located.

Kilpatrick, a Democrat, failed to turn around Detroit’s economy and declining city services, which were hit hard by the 2008 and 2009 recession. Kilpatrick’s successor, Mayor Dave Bing, has been forced to cut city jobs and budgets and the city is struggling to avoid declaring bankruptcy.

Despite the revival of the major auto companies headquartered in the Detroit area, the city’s shrinking population and declining revenue have left it with a large budget deficit and billions in long-term debt.

Kilpatrick stepped down as mayor in 2008 as part of a plea agreement for lying under oath in a $8.4 million city settlement brought by two fired police officers. The charges to which he pleaded guilty showed that he lied in order to conceal cell phone text messages detailing an affair with a woman who was his chief of staff.

Kilpatrick’s record of text messages is expected to be part of the evidence introduced during the new trial, which prosecutors say will demonstrate that he ran a corrupt office.

Judge Nancy Edmunds tentatively has scheduled opening statements in the case for next Monday, depending on how quickly 12 jurors and six alternate jurors can be chosen.

Edmunds previously presided over the trial of the so-called “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who last October pleaded guilty to trying to blow up a commercial airliner with explosively sewn into his underwear and is serving a life sentence in prison.

Editing by Bernie Woodall and Will Dunham

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